The Cable

Obama’s Asia Trade Deal, on Life Support, Lives to See Another Day

Obama's massive Asia trade deal lives to see another day. But its ultimate fate is still a mystery.


It took a tongue-lashing from House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to give renewed life to a White House-backed trade bill that’s turning traditional Beltway enemies into allies and long-time friends into foes.

Hours after Boehner ripped nearly three dozen Republicans who voted against a procedural rule that would shape how the House debates the Trans-Pacific Partnership, lawmakers voted 236 to 189 Tuesday to give the lower chamber until the end of July to debate the trade bill. Last Friday, conservative members of the GOP caucus who were skeptical of the deal joined with some Democrats to defy the White House and derail a path toward a final agreement.

Last week, the House voted down a measure that provides assistance to workers who lose their jobs as a result of free trade. This needed to pass to allow a full vote by Congress on the Trade Promotion Authority, which would give President Barack Obama the ability to fast-track the trade agreement with Asian nations. It would be the largest trade pact in the history of the United States, negotiated over the last five years in secret, and would cover 40 percent of the global economy.

The Senate passed fast-track authority in May.

Earlier Tuesday, Boehner scolded Republicans who refused to allow the trade debate to move forward.

“We’re a team and we’ve worked hard to get the majority, we’ve worked hard to stay in the majority, and I expect our team to act like a team. And I, frankly, made it pretty clear I wasn’t very happy,” Boehner said on Capitol Hill.

Still, the pact, which includes 12 nations, remains on legislative life support. On the left, environmental groups like the Sierra Club and labor unions like the AFL-CIO oppose the deal. They argue it would hurt American workers and weaken environmental standards. Liberal Democrats like Reps. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut, Keith Ellison of Minnesota, and Sandy Levin of Michigan also don’t want to give Obama fast-track authority.

On the right, Tea Party Republicans like Republican Reps. Duncan Hunter of California, David McKinley of West Virginia, and David Joyce of Ohio are leading the GOP’s charge against the deal. They share Democratic concerns about American jobs getting shipped overseas, bucking pro-trade members of the GOP in the process.

Business groups, including the Business Roundtable, a group that represents CEOs of American companies, want the pact pushed through. The Treasury Department says it would increase exports to Asia by $123.5 billion.

Now, Boehner has bought more time to get members of his party on board. He’s also given Obama, who views the deal as legacy defining, more space to lobby House Democrats like Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). She openly defied the president last week by refusing to vote yes on the job measure. Hillary Clinton, the frontrunner for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, backed Pelosi on Sunday.

Kevin Smith, Boehner’s spokesman, told Foreign Policy the House speaker remains committed to getting the trade deal done.

Still, the trade pact faces an uphill battle. Conservative groups like Heritage Action for America  — a kingmaker in the Republican party — continue to oppose it. And labor unions show no sign of softening their opposition to the pact.

“I don’t see a good path forward,” Michael Stumo, chief executive officer of the Coalition for a Prosperous America, a group that opposes the bill, told FP Tuesday.

Photo credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

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